Gibraltar

The Weird History of Why Gibraltar Is British

27 Aug 2019
Okay, let’s approach (with caution) the elephant in the room. Why is this little peninsula on the very tip of Europe not a part of Spain? Why is Gibraltar a British Overseas Territory? Why are the pubs full of fish and chips not pork cheeks, pints of Carling and not wine? The answer to that question lies in the conflict-heavy history of Europe, so we’ll do our best to explain it in as small a number of words as possible.

Our story begins back in 1704, although Gibraltar’s human history does go all the way back to the Neolithic. In 1704 the Spanish King took his final breath, kicking off what became known as the War of Spanish Succession. France wanted all of the Spanish territories, and while most of the Spanish population was fine with this it simply wasn’t an option, at least according the other European powers, namely Great Britain and the Dutch Republic. Portugal sided with the Alliance and was thus invaded by Spain, leading to British and Dutch ships sailing off to defend it.

These ships sailed all the way to the very bottom of Spain and the port of Gibraltar, ostensibly to create another front against the weaker Spanish army. It worked, and the British quickly took control of the strategically important Gibraltar, a moment still remembered on the Gibraltar 50p coin. The Spanish fled but tried to recapture the plot of land, only to realise just how strategically cosy it was. The British stood firm, and Gibraltar was officially ceded to Great Britain in the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713-15. Britain kept hold of Gibraltar with relative ease until the 20th century, when Europe decided to have a couple of wars to (theoretically) end all wars. Gibraltar stood firm, but the post-colonial word saw its fate discussed once more.

While the rest of the British colonies moved towards independence, it was the Treaty of Utrecht that got in the way for Gibraltar. The treaty included a clause that stated that if Britain gave up Gibraltar, Spain would return to control. A referendum was held in 1967 to decided between British or Spanish control, a vote that went overwhelmingly in favour of the British. And by ‘overwhelmingly’, we mean ’12,138 to 44’.

Spanish fascist dictator Franco wasn’t chuffed and closed the border, which only made the people of Gibraltar even more defiantly British. Franco died and Spain soon needed British assistance in order to join the European Community, so the Lisbon Agreement saw the border re-opened and Gibraltar remained a part of the British sphere. Brexit has thrown that into all sorts of chaos, but the legend remains true ― while there monkeys on Gibraltar, it will remain British.

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